Protecting our Children with Awkward Conversations

My husband and I are about to be outnumbered by teenagers when our youngest enters teendom in January. Before you think I’m complaining, lamenting or hiding in my closet, I can assure you, this has been my favorite (I didn’t say easiest) phase of parenting our three kids.

Almost everything about the teenage years is awkward. If you take even 30 seconds to reflect on your own middle school and high school years, the banner over those years would likely be AWKWARD. For parents, guiding your kids through the teen years can be daunting, trying and tiring – especially in today’s culture.

As if the teen years aren’t tricky enough, I’m happy to rachet up the awkwardness in our home. I happen to love the frank, candid conversations I can have with our teens (as opposed to the highly edited, age-appropriate conversations we had during their younger years). And not only do I see these as “can have” conversations, but I also view them as “must have” equipping sessions. Ironically, and oh-so generously, these awkward conversations help take a lot of trickiness out of the teen years.

If the thought of discussing sex, gender fluidity, abortion, transgenderism, or any other topic du jour makes you break out in a cold sweat, I encourage you to lean into the awkwardness. These conversations can become a protective barrier between your kids and the lies our culture is perpetuating. Most social media, movies and some school curriculum covering these topics do not include or give credence to what God has to say about any of these issues. May it not be so with your family.

With all that is going on in our world and the insanely evil messages coming at our children, many parents are hoping (not a good strategy) their kids will know what to do or think about these issues, rather than have the uncomfortable (yet equipping) conversations about our current culture. The truth is, if we opt out of these awkward conversations with our kids, the world is happy to fill in the blanks for us.

Not in my home. Not on my watch. I’m not interested in raising wilted adults; may they grow in wisdom and stature in the plans God has for them.

From the time our kids were little, we’ve had age-appropriate conversations about body parts, sex, God’s plan for sex, reproduction, gender and abortion from a biblical worldview. In their teen years we’ve moved from the abstract to the concrete. As a specific example, we have chosen to give our kids cell phones when they turn 13. However, we don’t merely hand them a phone and send them on their way, hoping for the best.

Before they are granted access to a phone (that is a very dumbed down smart phone, no Safari or ability to get apps, etc), we discuss a list of rules for using the phone and watch-outs. We cover sexting, nude photos, pornography, music and all the blush-worthy topics that come with having a “smart” phone. I vividly remember talking about sexting and sending and receiving nude photos when my son was about to get a phone. He looked like he’d rather be anywhere else on the planet than at our breakfast table having this cringe-worthy conversation. At that moment, I paused and said, “I see you don’t really want to talk about this stuff. I totally understand. But you need to understand that I can’t give you this phone and not explain the pitfalls that come with it. I can’t just hope you will know what to do in these situations if I don’t equip you. I love you too much to let you go at this unprepared.”

When we had the same conversation with our older daughter, her response was, “I’m not sure I even want to bring all that mess into my life.” That was a refreshing surprise….

A champion and model of the awkward conversation with kids comes from the wisest man himself, Solomon. Solomon is probably best known for writing most of the book of Proverbs. And while Christians read Proverbs to glean wisdom for themselves, Solomon addressed the book of Proverbs to his sons. He didn’t write it specifically for you and me – these were candid words he wanted to impart to his sons before they left the protective gates of his home and went out into the world.

When I read Proverbs, I imagine Solomon standing in front of his nearly grown sons, hands on their shoulders, shaking them as he pours wisdom into them as they engage in a world that does not always operate in their best interest. Solomon tells his sons how to walk in wisdom and he also pulls no punches regarding the folly of this world. He tells them plainly, they will be led like an ox to slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose if they walk foolishly (Proverbs 7:22). With fatherly love, Solomon candidly discusses morality, ethics, lust and foolishness in a way that doesn’t leave his sons guessing about his position on these crucial topics.

Perhaps your children are too young to discuss some of the heavier topics I’m covering with my teens. It’s never too early to lay the foundation for these conversations. When talking to parents of younger children, I always recommend starting with the building blocks of truth – Genesis 1 and 2. The creation of the earth and God’s plans are laid out in the first two chapters of the Bible. Even now with my teens, we go back to what God has to say in Genesis 1 and 2 before we dive into to topic like gender fluidity, abortion or sex. A common thread shared by all the cultural hot topics is an attempt to dismantle Genesis 1 and 2. Make sure your kids understand this basic building block of truth – God’s creation story includes His design for sex, marriage, gender and so many of the topics that are “up for grabs” today.

How to start the conversation

In talking with parents about equipping their kids for the world we live in, I’m often met with slumped shoulders and defeated looks by moms and dads who do not feel like they have the words to share with their kids about awkward topics, especially relating to sexuality. It can seem daunting, but God knew this was coming and He intentionally sets our living clocks to NOW. And He ever-so-intentionally gave you His precious children to train up.

Before having these conversations with your kids, pray. These are weighty topics, and we want the Holy Spirit to guide our words. As far as timing these conversations, I have set intentional time for certain conversations, others tend to come up organically, still other conversations have sprouted from questions from my inquisitive children.

Now that they are teens, many of our current conversations are further discussions of news stories we hear while in the car (and the car is a great place to have these conversations) or they see online. Our culture is teeming with these topics – it’s actually hard to avoid them. Instead of avoiding them, I take the opportunity to define, expand upon, or correct the information my kids just heard or read. In addition to planned conversations or reacting to the news, I’ve told my kids that they can ask me anything. I’ve told them they will not shock me (you may want to practice looking unshocked) with information I don’t know about. Mama knows… and I’ve promised that I will give them truthful, helpful information.

Pray, tee up conversations, and take opportunities that spontaneously present themselves. Put your shoulders back and chin up. Move past the embarrassment and dread. These awkward conversations are a protection for our children.

“Listen my son, to your father’s instruction, and don’t reject your mother’s teaching, for they will be a garland of favor on your head” (Proverbs 1:8).

Dear Lord, please give us boldness to equip our kids for the world we live in. May we not cower at certain subjects just because they are awkward or intimidating. You did not give us a spirit of fear, especially when it comes to talking to our own kids. We know You love them even more than we do and You have given us authority over them. May we fiercely protect them from the attacks aimed at them. May they grow into their full potential. Maranatha! Amen.   

I highly recommend these great resources with a biblical worldview to help with conversations:

Breakpoint website, podcast or emails from the Colson Center

Mama Bear Apologetics: Guide to Sexuality by Hillary Morgan Ferrer (website that gives a biblical perspective to today’s issues)

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